Skype defense not persuasive

Now that the whole world knows that Skype’s Chinese partner, TOM, has been censoring IM’s and building a database of forbidden speakers for the government of China, Skype President Josh Silverman had to respond:

In April 2006, Skype publicly disclosed that TOM operated a text filter that blocked certain words in chat messages, and it also said that if the message is found unsuitable for displaying, it is simply discarded and not displayed or transmitted anywhere. It was our understanding that it was not TOM’s protocol to upload and store chat messages with certain keywords, and we are now inquiring with TOM to find out why the protocol changed.

We also learned yesterday about the existence of a security breach that made it possible for people to gain access to those stored messages on TOM’s servers. We were very concerned to learn about both issues and after we urgently addressed this situation with TOM, they fixed the security breach. In addition, we are currently addressing the wider issue of the uploading and storage of certain messages with TOM.

I don’t know what’s more disturbing, the fact that one of most vocal net neutrality advocates is colluding with the government of China to finger dissidents, or the fact that they didn’t know they were collaborating. Frankly, this corporate defense raises more questions than it answers.

There are always going to be countries where the local laws are antithetical to post-enlightenment values. I think the correct response to such situations is to just say “no” and go somewhere else. For particularly compelling services, such as Google and Skype, the fact that the foreign service provide can’t do business in the fascist state then becomes a pressure point for change. The companies that collaborate with China are selling out their futures to fund the current quarter. How much money does Skype need to make, anyhow?

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